“All truth is simple… is that not a double lie?” Friedrich Nietzsche
Pleasure. Felicity. Nirvana. Contentment. Joy. Glee. Delight. Gladness. Enchantment.
Call it whatever we want, but we all want it.
And we’ve heard all the clichés.
Happiness is… puppies; kittens; babies; home; hugs; love; family; money
a loving family; or just chocolate. That is, happiness is life’s simple pleasures (and the simpler the better).
Unless it’s not simple.
There are happiness authors, happiness religions, happiness clinics, happiness therapists, happiness gurus, and even happiness critics.
Happiness critics aren’t just ill-tempered people. They don’t deny that there is such a thing as happiness. And they aren’t just grumpy people out to ruin everyone’s fun.
They’re telling us that happiness isn’t always normal.
Or, it isn’t what others tell us happiness is.
If we have a problem the standard, everyday advice is to study and concentrate and focus on that problem. But see a problem? We’re told to obsess.
More information, better information, even happier information won’t help us be happy. Telling us that we’re—deep down—special, wired or not for happiness, won’t make us happy. And obsessing only helps, well, obsessing.
If we’re unhappy, we tell ourselves to be happy or not to be unhappy (either way, the response is unhelpful). We study and concentrate and focus on being happy and/or unhappy.
We probably don’t want to be unhappy (excluding some masochistic tendency), but when we buy-into the idea of happiness—any idea of happiness – we become a slave to that idea of happiness, and our own unhappiness.
It’s all a fight – a fight with ourselves, about ourselves.
And we’re still unhappy. And we probably should be (but for the wrong reasons).
Difficulties, and even pain, are normal, but suffering from pain isn’t normal.
What if caring about happiness means we have to live with unhappiness? What if this isn’t because of God or providence or karma or moral necessity or punishment?
Why not question happiness?
We can be happy. But we may not be happy without also being unhappy. What if they’re not mutually exclusive? That means giving up on the simplest idea of happiness—that it’s the absence of unhappiness.
We aren’t going to be happy by avoiding unhappiness.
So instead of asking why we’re not happy, we might want to rewrite what happiness means for us. Not that happiness is or isn’t a good thing, but it’s time to create our own experience of happiness.
Happiness is, after all, just a word. It’s not that we don’t care or shouldn’t care. But that we can hold happiness loosely; not casually or carelessly, but loosely.
We’ve all seen the bronze figures of a fat bald robed man, often with a cloth sack, prayer lanyard or beggar’s bowl (showing a lack of possessions). He’s often seated, with his belly protruding to be rubbed for luck.
And he’s always smiling or laughing.
The Laughing Buddha (Ho-tei in Japan, Pu-tai in China) is a story of a wandering, pleasant, contented monk who prayed, wandered, was obviously well fed himself and happily gave candy and donuts to children. Chinese tradition describes him as eccentric, Zen Buddhism says he’s the example of the possibility of real happiness on earth.
Sometimes he’s poor and happy, holding loosely his cloth bag of candy. Occasionally he sits on a mound of gold coins (and he’s happy then too). Not sure about the Laughing Buddha? Try Santa Claus.
Contentment and abundance—in a nearly naked, obese, laughing monk. He shows no desire to be gather worshipping students but gave treats to children who gathered around him in play.
It’s not that simple, obviously, but he taught with his laughter. Laughter and candy.
Is it any wonder we want to rub his tummy?
But now it’s time to question happiness.